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Growing Organized Crime Shadows Peace Efforts in Iraq - 2003-08-27

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says organized crime and drug trafficking are growing problems in Iraq, even as the country tries to get accustomed to peace.

A four-member team from the UNODC has returned from a two-week fact-finding mission in Iraq to examine a range of issues, including growing problems with organized crime and drug trafficking.

The U.N. team's visit was made at the request of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. special representative in Iraq. The team met with him at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad only hours before a bomb blast battered the building and killed the envoy earlier this month.

U.N. officials said the team has traveled extensively around Iraq. Its leader, Bernard Frahi, told VOA that organized crime started under deposed president Saddam Hussein's government to get around U.N. sanctions.

"Today because of the fall of this regime that has turned toward organized crime and organized crime networks, we are speaking mainly about oil smuggling, about copper smuggling, which seems to be a very attractive business between Iraqi criminals and some parts on the Iranian side doing the smuggling," he said.

Mr. Frahi said the criminal justice system in Iraq is in need of urgent reform. He added that the newly installed governing council is working to rebuild the police force, but that much more needs to be done. The U.N. office on drugs also recommends that specialized units be trained and equipped to combat drug peddling. Iraq is close to one of the major drug routes for the smuggling of opium from Afghanistan, and its borders are not secure.

The United Nations says it can offer further support to the coalition provisional authority in Iraq by advising on developing a legal framework to clamp down on money laundering.

But continuing violence in the war-torn country is proving an obstacle, and U.N. officials say the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad has forced them to put a number of projects for Iraq on hold.

For security reasons, a planned visit by U.N. legal experts to Iraq has been postponed.